The most common method of breast reconstruction currently performed in
the United States uses tissue expanders and breast implants. The breast
is usually reshaped in two stages, or surgeries. During the first stage,
a tissue expander is placed. An implant is placed during the second stage.
Sometimes the implant is inserted in a single stage.
Learn more about the implant reconstruction process.
The shape of the reconstructed breast with an implant may not look or feel
quite like the natural, opposite breast, especially as you age and your
natural breast changes shape. For this reason, implants are better for
women with small or medium-sized breasts with little or no sagging.
Learn more about how to decide which type of breast reconstruction is right for you.
It is possible to have surgery to enlarge or reduce the size of the opposite,
natural breast to help make both breasts look more alike. However, it
is important to note that the natural breast will change in size and shape
with weight changes and as a woman grows older, while the breast with
the implant will not. This may lead to a less even look over time.
Types of Implants
There are two basic types of breast implants: saline and silicone.
For both saline and silicone implants, the outer cover of the implant
(also called the implant shell) is made of a solid form of silicone. The
two types of implants differ in the substance used to fill the implant shell.
- Saline implants are filled with saline, a saltwater solution similar to
that found in IV fluids. Saline implants come deflated and are filled
during surgery up to the desired volume.
- Silicone implants are filled with silicone gel, a semi-solid substance
made from silicone. They come pre-filled with the desired volume.
Different implant shapes are available to match the look of the natural
breast. Implants can be round or teardrop-shaped and vary in the amount
Safety of Implants
In the past, there were concerns that silicone implants caused health
problems. However, the research to date clearly shows
link between silicone implants and lupus, immune system disorders, connective
tissue disease or rheumatoid arthritis. Silicone implants are a safe option
compared to saline implants, and is generally preferred by most plastic
surgeons due to the resulting more natural shape and feel.
Breast Implants & Radiation Therapy
Radiation therapy can cause problems (such as changes in skin color and
tissue shrinkage) for both implant and natural tissue reconstruction.
If you will have an implant procedure and radiation therapy will be used
after mastectomy, immediate rather than delayed breast reconstruction
is recommended. Skin that has received radiation and is later stretched
to fit an implant is at high risk for complications and a poor cosmetic
result. Results are better when the procedures to expand the skin are